3 S’pore Entrepreneurs Share Lessons Learnt From COVID-19

Most of us will likely remember 2020 as a year marked by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Although some companies faced an unfortunate divestiture, others continued to grow and even managed to raise funds despite the economic downturn.

Running a business is no easy task, and keeping it afloat and thriving in the midst of a pandemic is even more difficult. Thus, many valuable lessons and ideas can be learned from business owners and founders.

Vulcan Post talks to three notable local entrepreneurs about their biggest takeaways and thoughts this year:

Look for opportunities in every adversity

Lucas Ngoo Carousell
Lucas Ngoo, Carousell co-founder / Image credit: KingSleeve

A common theme that emerged from all three business leaders we spoke with was the need to react quickly to situations and identify new opportunities when previous business models were disrupted.

At the height of the pandemic where lockdowns were occurring across the world, Carousell users in many markets were unable to meet for transactions.

For those who don’t know, Carousell is a consumer market for buying and selling new and used products.

The pandemic has caused significant disruption to the user experience while transacting items, but the team has used it as “an opportunity to catalyze efforts to make buying and selling as easy as possible”.

According to Lucas Ngoo, co-founder of Carousell, they have stepped up efforts and partnered with several local delivery partners such as GOGOX, Lalamove and Morning Express to offer easy shipping solutions and discounted shipping rates that users can enjoy during these difficult times.

In fact, Carousell ended up playing a big role in helping people make ends meet.

Lucas told Vulcan Post that more than US $ 1 billion of second-hand items traded on the platform between February and June 2020.

Like Carousell, Lloyd’s Inn boutique hotel also faced a huge change in its operations when the borders suddenly closed.

Lloyd's Inn Singapore
Lloyd’s Inn boutique hotel has seen a sharp drop in revenue / Image credit: Lloyd’s Inn

Without tourists, incomes have fallen sharply. During the breaker, Singaporeans were also not allowed to have stays.

Joan Chang, director and co-founder of Lloyd’s Inn, told Vulcan Post that in the meantime the hotel needs to switch to a completely stay-based approach and look for other possible sources of revenue.

The hotel then implemented various marketing campaigns and staycation packages to adapt to changing consumer needs.

Agility is essential

Stuart Thornton, CEO and Co-Founder of Hoolah
Stuart Thornton, CEO and Co-Founder of Hoolah / Image Credit: hoolah

Acting quickly to react to change is an important trait that business leaders should have.

Being operationally and mentally agile is absolutely important, in addition to understanding what the challenges are and being courageous in making a call for change – ultimately, not panicking despite the noise around you – are all important. lessons learned.

Stuart Thornton, CEO and Co-Founder of Hoolah

Stuart Thornton, CEO and co-founder of Hoolah told Vulcan Post that when the pandemic hit, they “quickly moved to a virtual team environment to protect [their] people.”

Subsequently, they quickly renewed their plans and made decisions on the key areas the startup should focus on, which led to the formulation of an omnichannel solution.

The Singapore-based startup “ buy now, pay later ” asked the team to focus on executing the plan, so they can schedule the launch of their in-store solution for when stores would eventually open their doors.

Last September, it launched a first in-store “Buy Now Pay Later” solution. They have since passed more than 1,500 partner stores.

To add, Stuart mentioned that the use of technology can go a long way in helping a business in its quest for efficiency and agility, especially during the pandemic.

Despite being locked out, hoolah has not stopped spreading and the team has grown from 30 to well over 100 in three to five markets.

Stuart said this was possible because the team “was using technology efficiently and effectively to drive our productivity and growth.”

Raising funds despite a pandemic

team hoolah
Image Credit: hoolah

Despite the pandemic, Carousell and hoolah have managed to raise funds.

Last September, South Korean tech giant Naver led a US $ 80 million (S $ 108 million) investment round in Carousell.

The latest funding round brings Carousell’s total valuation to US $ 900 million (S $ 1.22 billion), following acquisitions in 2019 to accelerate growth in Malaysia, Vietnam and the Philippines.

“Naver’s investment in Carousell, especially during this very difficult time, marks a vote of confidence and strengthens the relevance of our mission,” said Lucas.

The founder also believes it is a validation of the opportunity that Southeast Asia presents for Carousell’s growth.

On the other hand, hoolah closed an eight-figure Series A investment round earlier this year.

“Raising money is a journey rather than a sprint,” Stuart said when asked what some of the factors made the investment possible.

The company, the team and the progress made by the start-up in terms of business and metrics were key elements in gaining support from strategic investors.

Anticipate potential problems that might arise

Joan Chang Lloyd Inn
Joan Chang, director and co-founder of Lloyd’s Inn / Image credit: SMU ISE

Joan has learned not to take pre-Covid times for granted, whether that’s being able to walk around without a mask or making sure she stays ‘protected’ during ‘rainy days’.

As a business owner, another thing for Joan to remember is to make sure that businesses always anticipate future problems and create multiple sources of income to better deal with unknowns.

She also believes in the importance of taking a holistic view of the different stakeholders that influence a company’s decision-making.

For example, examining macroeconomic factors such as the global economy, government transitions, and support from local governments can help a business determine which direction to turn.

On the other hand, micro factors like team members, their roles and motivations also play a role because ultimately the team supports the business.

Adapt to the new standard

For Carousell, “having a listening ear on the ground and being agile as an organization” played a big role for the organization in 2020, as it allowed them to strategically plan initiatives that met the needs of their community.

The startup repeated to be more essential for people as they stay at home, focusing on categories such as home services, furniture and electronics this year.

Over the coming year, Carousell will continue to establish itself in the region, resolving barriers to second-hand selling and buying.

Likewise, hoolah is preparing its Series B financing that will help the company meet its goals of geographic expansion, hyperlocation and product growth.

Joan believes that travel will eventually resume and that Lloyd’s Inn will continue with its expansion plans.

Additionally, she also said there will likely be a need for hotels, as they offer an experience of 24/7 service, hygiene and daily housekeeping.

Despite the challenges faced this year, these founders still managed to pull through and are on the right track for further growth next year.

“Startups are no strangers to uncertainty and tough times, but over the past year we’ve seen how important it is to be able to adapt to a changing environment,” said Lucas.

Stuart shared the same sentiment and said that in such situations, “you can only respond positively and find opportunities.”

Featured Image Credit: SMU ISE / Generationt / Ricky Singh via Medium

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